22 April 2010

The Five Celestial Laws

This carefully conceived scene, executed in grisaille to decorate the top of a niche containing a portrait of Adam, is part of a set of large altarpiece panel paintings in the Joost Vijdt chapel in the Cathedral of St. Bavon at Ghent, Belgium. The portrayal of Abel lifting up the lamb “prefigures both the sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist.” The contrasting choices of Cain and Abel with respect to their covenantal obligations typify the account of the parting of the ways of righteousness and wickedness that begins in Moses 5. Of those who follow the way of wickedness, Jude wrote: “Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain.”

Relating the themes of opposition and agency that are portrayed in the story of Cain and Abel, Hugh Nibley frequently wrote about “the inescapable choice between Two Ways.” This ancient doctrine “proclaims that there lie before every human...two roads between which a choice must be made. The one is the road of darkness, the way of evil; the other, the way of light. Every man must choose between the two every day of his life; that choosing is the most important thing he does... He will be judged by God in the proper time and place. Meantime he must be free, perfectly free, to choose his own way.

In this article, I will outline the five celestial laws of the New and Everlasting Covenant, first revealed in the days of Adam. During periods of darkness, the glorious ordinances
associated with these laws were generally withdrawn from the earth, however their shadows have persisted in religions and cultures the world over. Nowhere in scripture are these teachings better preserved than in the book of Moses. Not only do we find each law there in proper sequence, but also, in every case, we discover stories that illustrate their application, both positive and negative. Indeed, it almost seems as if the stories of Moses 5-8 were deliberately structured in order to highlight the contrast between those who accepted and those who rejected the laws of heaven...

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Scripture in Depth: Moses 2:14-15

It is the earth, not heaven, that requires illumination provided by God's light. Likewise, modern temples are made to brilliantly shine so as to light their nighttime surroundings, while at the same time being furnished with opaque windows that restrict outside illumination (see Doctrine and Covenants 43:15). Thus, the temple's function is symbolically portrayed as giving light, not necessarily receiving it from elsewhere. The Bible says Solomon's Temple was constructed with "windows of narrow lights."

"The ancients said: 'Whoever builds windows in his house, makes them wide outside and narrow inside, that they should bring in the light,'" wrote the late Israeli geographer Zev Vilnay in his book "Sacred Land." "'Not so in the Temple; because there the light was within, and shone forth onto the whole world.' 'As oil gives light -- so the Temple gives light to the world.'"

And Elder John A. Widtsoe said, "Spiritual power is generated within temple walls, and sent out to bless the world ... Every home penetrated by the temple spirit enlightens, cheers, and comforts every member of the household. The peace we covet is found in such homes. Indeed, when temples are on earth, the whole world shares measurably in the issuing light; when absent, the hearts of men become heavy, as if they said, with the people of Enoch's day, 'Zion is fled'" (See Moses 7:69).

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15 April 2010

Adam, Eve, and the New and Everlasting Covenant

While the importance of the account of the Creation and the Fall in Moses 1-4 cannot be overstated, a careful reading of Moses 5-8 is required to see the prior material in its overall context. Reeves observes:
"Most modern students of the Bible fail to discern the pivotal significance which [the tale of Cain and Abel] plays in the present narrative structure of Genesis because of the enormous religious significance with which ancient, medieval, and modern Christian interpreters have invested the immediately preceding story of Adam and Eve in the Garden...I would like to suggest that while admittedly the episode of disobedience in the Garden was not a good thing, the story of Cain and Abel introduces something far worse into the created order...It represents a critical turning point in antediluvian history, and is...the key crime which leads ineluctably to the Flood."
Foreseeing the similar rise of alluring wickedness in our own time, the Savior warned that "as it was in the days of Noah, so it shall be also at the coming of the Son of Man."

The illustration above is taken from Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1936 story The Devil and Daniel Webster, made into a popular film in 1941. Piazza characterizes the latter as “a fascinating allegory, filmed on the eve of World War II, of a society gone mad with materialism, a premonition of the opportunities and dangers awaiting the United States as it recovered from the Great Depression.” Old Scratch is portrayed as polite, refined, and soft-spoken—and as usual, he “gets the best lines” as he preaches his gospel of cold cash to a down-on-his-luck New Hampshire farmer. Warned Benét: “[I]f a smooth-spoken and businesslike stranger should appear at your door and offer you all that money can buy in exchange for your freedom of soul, it might be well to look him over rather carefully. I seem to have heard that there are such people abroad in the world, even today.” ...

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08 April 2010

The Prayer of Adam and Eve

Moses 5:4 tells us that Adam and Eve offered prayer after they left the Garden of Eden:

"And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence."

In answer to their petitions, Adam and Eve heard the Lord’s voice calling them back from their place of exile on the fallen earth. Later, He gave them additional instruction and commandments in order to set their feet back on the way toward the Garden of Eden which is, of course, the path that terminates in “the way of the Tree of Life." In a passage from the Midrash Tehillim, the Hebrew term teshuvah, which denotes "return" but scripturally means "repentance" or "conversion," is used to describe the way back to the Garden, signifying "the movement that brings every thing and every being back to its supernal origin," the "return to the celestial abode." The spiritual movement of turning away from the sinful world and back toward mankind's heavenly origins is mirrored in the layout of ordinance rooms in some modern temples.

In this article, I will explore sources that purport to give details about ancient forms of prayer rooted in the experiences of Adam and Eve. Notable features of such prayers include uplifted hands, introductions spoken in an unknown language, repetition, and the veiling of the face by women...

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01 April 2010

Three Perspectives on the Atonement

In William Tyndale's 1526 version of the New Testament, he gave an English translation of Romans 5:10-11 as follows:
For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son: much more, seeing we are reconciled, we shall be preserved by his life. Not only so, but we also joy in God by the means of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received this atonement.
Like many others of Tyndale’s memorable translations of scriptural phrases, this version becamethe basis for the historically dominant rendering of the text into English. In the English Bible, "atonement" is "the single word of Anglo-Saxon origin that describes a theological doctrine; other doctrinal words come from Latin, Hebrew, or Greek."

Tyndale’s use of the term “atonement” in his Bible translation was consistent with his theological view that the central mission of Jesus was:
“... to make us one with God: “One God, one Mediatour, that is to say aduocate, intercessor, or an atonemaker, between God and man.” “One mediatour Christ, ... and by that word understand an atonnemaker, a peacemaker.”
Gallagher further explains:
The original meaning also comes through in the various early Bible commentators. Note Udal’s comment on Ephesians 2:16 which makes the intended meaning of “atone” crystal clear: “And like as he made the Jewes and Gentiles at one betwene themselfes, euen so he made them bothe at one with God, that there should be nothing to break the attonement, but that the thynges in heauen and the thinges in earth should be ioined together as it wer into one body.”
In this article, I will examine three inseparable perspectives on the oneness made possible through the Atonement of Christ—viewing this central event of human history as a “happy homecoming,” as the “whole meaning of the law,” and as the means of becoming a “partaker of the divine nature.” ...

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